University of Wisconsin–Madison

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park

I am obsessed with Kyoto. This has been my third trip to Kyoto and I still haven’t seen everything! Kyoto boasts over 1600 temples and old fashioned Japanese roads lined with temples, restaurants, food shops, gift stores, and then -wait for it- more temples. This time, I went with my family who were visiting me for the week, and we spent four night in Kyoto. I took them to see a lot of what I have seen before simply because it is all so beautiful, but I had planned two days of new sights: Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari.

Fushimi Inari is a famous temple in Kyoto, but most temples in Kyoto are world famous, so I had no idea that this was the textbook pictures and Pinterest pictures of one of the coolest Japanese temples out there. We set out at 8AM (because there’s a lot of walking to get to the top of the temple and the crowds get really thick later in the day) and we knew even from a few blocks out that we were getting close to the temple because we could see the characteristically Japanese orange temple gates (called Torii) arching the streets. We turned another street corner and were immediately blinded by the crimson orange of all the Torii and painted temple complex.

It’s a very impressive site, even if you have already seen many of the other temples in Kyoto, but we didn’t realize how gargantuan the temple is until we passed the largest shrines and were met with even more Torii covering stairs leading up the mountain.

The first few hundred meters, everyone wants to stop and take pictures because it is so beautiful, but 10 minutes further and most people stop taking photos because they are concentrating all their effort onto climbing the endless stairs. 30 minutes in, we FINALLY reach a map (which we learn later is not drawn accurately to scale whatsoever) that says we aren’t even half way! Another 30 minutes and we reach another map that indicates we have barely moved from where we were on the first map at all! The number of people climbing up the mountain begins to dwindle until it’s just me and my parents trudging up these ancient steps. Then we reach the top.

The view was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. How is it that so many hundreds of years ago, some monks thought “I’m going to build thousands of Torii up a mountain in a forest all the way up to this view.” We may never know, but thank you to those who built it! Even just thinking about how many feats this took puts me more in awe with Fushimi Inari.

When we tried to get back around the loop of the path, as the map had shown, we had some trouble. There were three unmarked paths which all were dead ends (yes, we tested every single one). Two hours later, after lumbering back on the path we came on and not finding any loop as was shown on the map, we made it to the temple entrance again and I was just about ready to shower and nap but it was only 10AM!

We followed Fushimi Inari up with a trip to Arashiyama, kind of a suburb to Kyoto famous for its bamboo forest and monkey park. (does the title of this blog post sound familiar now?) When you hear the names of those two attractions, I hope your heart starts to beat a little faster because they were just as amazing as they sound. The bamboo forest is about a 15 minute walk from the station, but you know precisely what route to follow because a long procession of tourists seems to be endlessly moving to and from the bamboo forest. When we arrived, the first thing that stuck out wasn’t the bamboo but all the tourists! It was so heavily packed, I had a hard time taking pictures. Eventually we found an offshoot with slightly fewer tour groups and stopped to take in the scenery (and snap a few pictures).

Retracing our steps back out of the bamboo forest, we followed a more inconspicuous path to a sign at the foot of some stairs with a picture of a Japanese Macaque monkey on it. I was warned that the monkey park was not extremely well marked and, honestly, if I hadn’t been warned in advance, I not only would have not found this monkey park but likely not planned to go there at all! You buy a ticket at the foot of the hill, but have to climb up steep stairs for 20 minutes and, near the end, I was seriously considering if they would give me a refund if I turned around before I was the monkeys. I persevered. And then soon after, without any signal of an enclosure, I spotted my first monkey hardly a meter away!

Then, we saw them everywhere! It was obvious there was no enclosure keeping the monkeys in; they were completely wild and chose to be their out of their own accord (most likely because they were well fed). It gets better still, we could go inside a room and FEED the monkeys ourselves!

These monkeys had such a privileged life lounging in the sun and being hand fed. This was, by far, one of my coolest experiences to date. (I know I say that every other blog, but every time I don’t think I can beat how cool something was, another Japanese experience comes along to blow the others out of the water.)